Building Forgiveness  



Healing Art
Building Forgiveness
Jewish Transcript




Building Forgiveness


by Linda Morgan


Island artist Madelaine Georgette grew up in South Africa where she lived for 26 years. Up until recently, her works consisted mostly of figurative and decorative pieces. But she's returned to her roots with her latest exhibit which is based upon South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings.


"Building Community: Truth and Reconciliation" will open on Wednesday, Feb. 2 at the Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center in Seattle. The exhibit, timed to begin during Black History Month, is a glimpse into the human impact of the policies and crimes perpetrated to implement Apartheid.


The TRC hearings in South Africa began as a social experiment intended to enable the nation to recover from the human rights abuses of Apartheid. Under the slogan "Revealing is Healing," the commission held public hearings around the country to listen to the stories of both the victims and perpetrators of Apartheid, South Africa's policy of racial separation. The goal, as stated by TRC chair Desmond Tutu, was to move forward; to "deal with this past as quickly as possible, then close the door on it and concentrate on the present and future."

Georgette's paintings and mixed media works deal with the findings, conclusions and testimonies of the final report of the commission, which was presented to President Nelson Mandela in October 1998. "The exhibit is about context," said Georgette. "What the land looked like, how it was divided up, the policy of separation, how the country was fragmented. Some pieces show the landscape, other pieces deal with individual stories; a few deal with how people lived."


The artist spent a year researching the hearings, and she read much of the 3,500 page testimony before the TRC. "I found I had to start at the beginning," she said. "I had to understand the context and the history. The deeper I penetrated the information, the more I realized I could be involved with this project for years. I determined it had to be done in stages and exhibited as work-in-progress, just like forgiveness."


Forgiveness is not an easy concept to those touched by oppression—a history lesson Georgette understands well. Her father's family was eliminated in the Holocaust, and her husband is a Holocaust survivor. "Human beings around the globe have not learned the lessons of war," writes Georgette in her artist's statement. "instead, one group succeeds another and former victims become the new perpetrators as savage cycles of endless violence are perpetrated in the name of revenge." South Africa chose a different path, she notes, "a unique, courageous road to peace, to create light from their darkness."

The road, of course, is fraught with controversy: The TRC is empowered to grant amnesty to those who will come forward and give full details of their actions. Full disclosure is all that's required—not remorse for atrocities committed or apology to the victims or their families.


"Very few societies have said, 'we have an ugly past, we've had our hatreds and we need to move beyond them,"' noted Georgette, a former political economist. "South Africa wants to move forward. I think this is a remarkable achievement."


She would like the exhibit at Langston Hughes to be the first of many such shows. "A lot of this is dark, but I hope it is stimulating," she said. "I hope it makes people consider what is going on around the world and within our own communities. America is not removed from racial strife; we need to reconcile our past."


Reprinted with permission from the Mercer Island Reporter 

(Originally published  Jan 26, 2000).



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